Randy Moss and the Minnesota Vikings were energized by their reunion, giving them hope for a late-season surge.
Moss caught a go-ahead touchdown pass in the third quarter, Kevin Williams returned Byron Leftwich’s fumble 77 yards for the clinching score and the Vikings beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-16, Sunday.
“His presence is like so humongous for us,” Onterrio Smith said. “We were talking about what he was going to wear to the stadium. That’s how fired up Randy was.”
His hamstring finally healed, Moss had four receptions -- his first in six weeks -- for 40 yards after playing the majority of Minnesota’s snaps. He declined to comment with a shake of his head, but others spoke for him.
“To have Randy back, it lifts our spirits a little bit,” said Daunte Culpepper, who completed 19 of 27 passes for 235 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He scored on a one-yard run in the first half, but committed what could’ve been a costly fumble in the fourth quarter.
Leading, 20-16, the Vikings (7-4) were on their way to another clock-eating touchdown drive when Culpepper was sacked by Bobby McCray at the Jacksonville 22. The fumble was recovered by Marcus Stroud with 7 minutes 46 seconds remaining, and the Jaguars marched to the other end before Leftwich fumbled away their chance.
Leftwich, who had sat out the previous two games because of a sprained left knee, was sacked by rookie Kenechi Udeze just before the two-minute warning on third and six from the 19. The ball popped out and Williams picked it up on his way to a touchdown.
“If I would’ve seen him, I would’ve ducked,” said Leftwich, who was 19 for 34 for 235 yards and one touchdown.
The Jaguars (6-5) lost for the third time in four games and suddenly are in trouble in the crowded AFC playoff race. They play host to Pittsburgh (10-1) on Sunday.
“The window is closing,” Coach Jack Del Rio said. “The only thing we can control is next week.”
Smith carried 20 times for 72 yards. Jermaine Wiggins caught four passes for 55 yards and Marcus Robinson had four for 48 yards.
Jacksonville’s Fred Taylor had 22 carries for 147 yards, yet another back to give Minnesota problems this month. But the defense made stops when it needed to, and Udeze and Williams -- the Vikings’ last two first-round draft picks -- teamed up on the big play.
The Viking offensive line was without three injured starters after Dave Dixon sprained his left knee in the first quarter, making the 16-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up nearly 9 1/2 minutes of the second half even more impressive. Three penalties, totaling 25 yards, helped Minnesota move the ball.
On third and goal at the two, Moss jumped over the shoulder of Donovin Darius, snared the ball and dropped both feet down in the back of the end zone to put Minnesota ahead, 20-13.
Many quarterbacks would not have dared to throw that pass. Culpepper did.
“I always feel like if he can get a hand on it, he’s going to catch it,” Culpepper said. “I have ... total confidence in [No.] 84.”